How not to choose roommates

So, student lifers, the other day I got a pretty nerve-wracking text. It was from a friend I lived with up until May of this year, saying, "My aunt sent me a birthday card in the mail with a cheque to our old place, and yesterday it was sent back to her ripped open and taped up with ‘doesn’t live here anymore’ written on it… WTF." Of course, I started freaking out. My other ex-roommates are tampering with our mail? What if they tear up an important document or read a personal letter? OK, fine, I still sometimes correspond via snail-mail. I know, I know. A bit of backstory: this past year, I lived with four other girls in a five-bedroom apartment on one floor. Amazing rent, good location… less than ideal relationships. The ripped-up birthday card was only the latest in a long series of icky encounters. One weekend, when I had a test the following Monday, one roomie thoughtfully invited six members of a hockey team to stay at our house, sans my okay. Now I’m all for flip-cup, but flip-cup 11 AM to 11 PM*? Getting crassly hit on in your own house? Less than pleasant. Then there's the time our rent cheque bounced because a roomie had accidentally been siphoning money from our group account for months. Now, considering I’m the communications intern, communication is kind of a thing of mine. Good communication, for me, means generally being polite and opening and closing emails (even strongly worded ones) with friendly speak. Three-fifths of the house would text message things like “Cable is in you owe $10.40,” or “I have two friends staying on the couch if you come home,” even when I was in the next room. This culminated in a few of them writing me a letter telling me I wasn’t welcome to live there next year because I “didn’t have the time to be a good roommate.” Because I was busy doing well in school, writing loads of articles, networking to beat the band and trying to keep up with other friends, I wasn’t home often, and therefore… was not welcome home next year? After I got the letter, I got major attitude around the house, which one roommate justified with “Well, you were never here anyways!” By the end, I was staying at the library until 2 a.m. or so and coming home praying the door was locked, indicating no one was up. Bearing in mind that these are the girls who subsequently threw another girl’s furniture out by the trash, there are probably some more serious issues at play, but I’m happy to say that I’ve learned quite a bit from this experience. One huge thing is that it’s important to know your rights and to assert them. Student Housing Service is a great place to start. They can hook you up with the Tenant Survival Manual, which lists the most pertinent rights in a user-friendly way, and details who to go to for specific problems. They’re also really helpful in person. I spoke to Jennifer Bennett, Manager of Student Housing Service, about some of the problems I had and she broke down the important info: basically, there aren’t specific rights when it comes to roommates, but more general rights of being a tenant, and if your roommates are engendering a living environment that’s not in keeping with your rights as a tenant, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to resolve that. Also, Housing Service has been working with St. Stephen’s Community House on roommate mediation. Of course, it would be better if it didn’t get to the point where that kind of help is necessary. But how to find a good roommate and avoid all this? Housing Service to the rescue, again! They’ve recently launched a Roommate Finder Service, available to anyone with UTORid (which means it’s only fellow students), where you create a profile and answer several questions about your habits and what you’re looking for in a roommate (male/female, queer friendliness, pets/no pets, etc). The service then matches you up with other students registered on the site, keeping all personal information confidential until you decide to give it. Personally, I’ve learned to be a lot more careful in selecting roommates. Someone who is as busy as I am is good, and it would be lovely if my roommate is as psycho about school as me, but ultimately, communication is key. I’m far from perfect—but I will try to work on stuff if someone explains why something is bothering them. I appreciate face-to-face conversations, where we can hash out our issues in a respectful way and then come up with solutions together. Sitting down at the start and having a talk about ground rules is something I’ve learned is important, because it not only sets those rules but also establishes a relationship where you can talk openly—or shows you if such a relationship isn’t possible. - Liz *OK, I just love this song. “Shout!”

5 comments on “How not to choose roommates

  1. Haha, Liz, we’d be good roommates – I am just as psycho about school as you – and 2 a.m at the library sounds just like me! (In fact, 5 a.m. is a regular bedtime for me. :))

    Too bad I’m too poor to live on campus!

    Great post!


  2. Fariya! How can you dangle yourself in front of me like this? A good rommate is hard to find!
    How’s summer?

  3. Hey Liz!

    Sorry about the dangling! I really would love to live on campus, but unless I can find a place downtown cheaper than the money I spend per month travelling ($320) or suddenly, money rains down on me in scholarship to save myself from the 3-hour commute I do a day, I’m stuck at home…sigh… 🙂 Any ideas?

    My summer seems to be being eaten up between studying for the LSAT (which, unfortunately I have to re-do in Oct) and law school applications – working on personal statements, etc. How did your LSAT go?

    What have you been up to this summer, yourself, Liz? I heard from Barrett that you’ve been working hard on intuit…

    ~ Fariya

  4. If you want to risk living with strangers, you’re gut instinct is your best bet. That would reduce the need to have to discuss/enforce ‘ground rules’ which often have little or difficult legal remedies. Best way to avoid the ‘psycho roommate’ is to make sure you ‘click’ or feel a good connection. Take your time to find a good roommate.

    From personal experience, warning signs of landlords/roommates:
    * people complaining about previous roommates/tenants when coming to see/showing the apartment (look out for bitterness, vagueness, it’s like someone complaining about their current/previous employer at a job interview)
    * avoiding eye contact when speaking to you
    * something about the way they speak or their personality seems forced or ‘fake’
    * saying they will check references, acting like they can’t trust you (These people have always turned out to be untrustworthy and will do something dishonest. Maybe this makes sense, because they don’t have references you can check and they worry that other people are do like they do.)
    * some slip in the conversation hints at an underlying disrespect

    Avoid living with a group of people unless you are friends with one or more, or else you risk them ganging up on you. If you are going to share your life with a stranger, remember that is what you are doing and be very careful. People can do things that will have long term consequences for your life. Often there’s not much the police can do to help, the help you get from them varies with different officers.

    It may be worth living a bit farther from campus to share with less people, or to pay a higher rent. It’s not worth potentially sacrificing your health dealing with ‘psychos’ You’d be better able to handle financial debt in future if you have good health.

  5. It’s hard to find good quality roommates, I’m not a student, but still pretty young, looking to rent out rooms in my house.

    The problem is, many people back out without even seeing the place, or basing their decline on the location.

    You sound like the kind of people we want sharing with us, quiet, respectful, and a good attitude.

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